Number of E. coli cases climbs to 62 in outbreak linked to Taco Bell restaurants

Friday, December 8th 2006, 6:08 am
By: News On 6

HILLSIDE, N.J. (AP) Federal health officials warned Friday that the number of infections from an outbreak of E. coli continued to climb, with more than 60 people falling ill after eating at Taco Bell restaurants, most in the Northeast.

The company ordered the removal of green onions from its 5,800 restaurants nationwide earlier this week after testing by an independent lab suggested the bacteria may have come from tainted scallions.

"Illnesses are still occurring, and we consider the outbreak to be ongoing," said Dr. Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said it expected the number of cases to grow. As of Friday afternoon, the agency had counted 62 confirmed cases in six states, most of them in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

South Carolina and Utah reported one case each. South Carolina health officials said Friday that their case involved a girl who had stopped at a Taco Bell in Pennsylvania last month while traveling. It was not immediately known if the Utah victim had recently been in the Northeast.

Forty-nine of those who got sick were hospitalized, and seven developed a type of kidney failure, the CDC said.

Laboratories continued testing food samples to find the source of the bacteria.

Some restaurants remained closed Friday, with huge garbage bins in parking lots as workers threw out food, cleaned kitchens and re-stocked supplies.

At least two lawsuits have been filed already on behalf of people who got sick after eating at Taco Bell: an 11-year-old Long Island, N.Y., boy, and a suburban Philadelphia man.

E. coli is found in the feces of humans and livestock. Most E. coli infections are associated with undercooked meat. The bacteria also can be found on sprouts or leafy vegetables such as spinach. The germs can be spread by people if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a common and ordinarily harmless bacteria, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, paralysis and death.

Earlier this year, three people died and more than 200 fell ill in an E. coli outbreak that was traced to packaged, fresh spinach grown in California.